July 25, 2016

Victory for Our Clients in Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion in Dollar General Corp. v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, No. 13-1496, a closely-watched case about the scope of tribal jurisdiction. By a vote of 4-4, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians prevailed. Stris & Maher represented the State of Mississippi and five other States as amici in support of the tribe (Our Amicus Brief).

This case presented an important question regarding the scope of tribal jurisdiction: whether Indian tribal courts may ever adjudicate civil tort claims in suits against nonmembers. The dispute arose after a 13-year-old tribal member was sexually molested by a supervisor at the Dollar General store on tribal land where he worked. When the child sued the store in Choctaw Tribal Court, alleging among other things that the company was on notice of the supervisor’s “propensity to harm children,” Dollar General moved to dismiss on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction over it because Dollar General is not a member of the tribe.

The Choctaw Tribal Court, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals each concluded that the Choctaw court had jurisdiction over Dollar General because of its consensual relationship with the tribe.

Dollar General retained Thomas C. Goldstein (a leading U.S. Supreme Court advocate and founder of SCOTUSblog) to represent it before the Court, which agreed to hear the case. Joined by various amici (including the States of Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, Michigan, Arizona, and Alabama), Dollar General argued that Congress had not authorized tribes to adjudicate tort claims against nonmembers.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians retained Neal Katyal (a leading U.S. Supreme Court advocate and former Acting Solicitor General of the United States) to represent it before the Court. Joined by various amici (including the United States), the Choctaw defended the lower courts’ ruling that tribal (and not Mississippi) court was the appropriate forum for this dispute.

Our firm was retained by the State of Mississippi to prepare and file an amicus brief supporting the Choctaw’s position that this dispute should be adjudicated in tribal court. The States of Colorado, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington also joined our brief, marking the first time that any State has formally supported a finding of tribal jurisdiction in a major case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Our brief was prepared by firm attorneys Peter Stris, Brendan Maher, Daniel Geyser, Dana Berkowitz, and Michael Jones.

This result has been heavily covered in the national press (The Atlantic | Law360 (subscription required)), and we are proud to have played a role in the outcome.

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